Directed by Richard Stanley, Tom Savini, Douglas Buck, Karim Hussain, Buddy Giovinazzo, Jeremy Kasten, David Gregory
As loved as the concept is, horror anthology films are actually a pretty rare breed these days. Even rarer are ones that manage to uphold a consistent level of quality across each segment. This leaves nearly every single anthology flick a must-see as, if quality is maintained, this particular sub-genre can offer up some of the most shining gems in the horror landscape. With an unarguably super-talented group of people behind it, it’s particularly perplexing and severely disappointing to discover that The Theatre Bizarre is not one of these gems.
Framed by a visually active yet unsurprising wraparound courtesy of Jeremy Kasten, the short offerings commence with Richard Stanley’s turgid The Mother of Toads – a creature feature meets occult mythos tale that follows a young couple traveling in France who find themselves embroiled in a lustful plot by a local witch whose true nature is much more monstrous than she appears. The story begins mysteriously enough but soon travels rapidly downhill with the addition of idiotic character behaviour, completely non-threatening toads and an attitude of utter seriousness that only serves to ensure that the penultimate scenes garner more sniggers than screams. Having stepped away from film for some time now, it’s further disappointing to see that Stanley appears to be severely slumming it here. Save for the occult overtones and pervasive use of music and sound, anyone would be hard pushed to distinguish the style of The Mother of Toads from just about any semi-competent indie filmmaker.
Buddy Giovinazzo’s I Love You is a slight improvement, bringing to the table a tale of an irreparably broken relationship that soon turns bloody. This one relies almost entirely on its two main players, who both manage to deliver admirably (even if actor André Hennicke does occasionally struggle through a thick accent). Clinical visuals and intentional under-direction work well to force the audience to focus on the breakdown of the couple involved, but the entire affair is predictable even if the ultra-violent nature of the final moments delivers on shock value.
Tom Savini’s Wet Dreams sees an abusive husband get his supernatural comeuppance at the hands of his long-suffering wife, aided by the reality-bending nature of his vivid Freudian dreams. The story moves at a brisk pace, and the dreams offer up a solid mixture of eroticism and comedic horror; however, yet again, it feels terribly familiar. The cast do what they can, but the characters are hateful or idiotic across the board and Savini’s visuals feel too much like a dated television piece.
Skipping one segment for now, we find Karim Hussain’s Vision Stains – a twisted little story involving a serial-killing female whose sole quarry are junkies, prostitutes and other abandoned, abused and forgotten women. Releasing them from their lives, at the moment of death she removes the vitreous fluid from their eyeballs and injects it into her own. This allows her to gain their memories, see their past experiences and write down everything to serve as their legacies. Her hunger for knowledge ultimately becomes her downfall as she fails to resist injecting the fluid of an unborn child into herself in order to unlock the mysteries beyond life itself. In essence, Hussain’s piece feels like little more than a vague attempt at creating a story around the central conceit (and effortlessly nauseating imagery) of injecting fluid into one’s eyeball. As has become quite a theme in The Theatre Bizarre so far, every character here is despicable, weak or just plain unlikable, and the final sequence detailing the ramifications of trying to learn what no human should know becomes a jumbled mess of visual imagery and voiceover that struggles to get any point across whatsoever.
The final segment, David Gregory’s Sweets, once more offers up a pair of annoying and pathetic characters in the form of Greg and Estelle as they face the end of their relationship. Greg, apparently hopelessly addicted to sugary foods, grovels and begs to the nonplussed Estelle as he continues to scoff down just about every item of food quite literally covering the entire room. Interspersed with this is imagery of their past relationship, where they regularly treated each other to sweet foods, with Estelle at one point funneling confectionary down Greg’s throat. Anyone familiar with foie gras or Hansel and Gretel will see the inevitable finale coming a mile away, and with no characters to give a damn about, the entire affair is once again an emotionally empty and ultimately pointless exercise in easily attained visual revulsion.
Nestled in the middle of The Theatre Bizarre, and skipped so far for the purpose of ending this review, is Douglas Buck’s The Accident. A sombre, melancholy piece of drama, this short explores the discovery of death as a child and the answers that we all seek upon its first intrusion into our lives. When a mother and daughter drive by the scene of a motorcycle accident resulting in a fatality, the young girl raises intimate questions regarding the nature of death, grief, loss and what comes after. Playing out mostly in voiceover, Buck switches effortlessly between the girl and her mother talking as she is tucked into bed and images of the accident itself. Never exploitative or needlessly bloody, The Accident is an artistic and heartfelt exploration of childish discovery and emotion, but it has no place amongst a horror anthology – and that’s the ultimate condemnation that could be leveled at The Theatre Bizarre as a whole: The most interesting piece of filmmaking to be found amongst all of the work on offer here isn’t even a horror film.
1 1/2 out of 5